Preparing For A Trip
The Basic Survival Kit
The Brain—The Camper’s Greatest Survival Tool
The Basic Needs
Take It Easy
Camping is usually not a dangerous or life-threatening activity. However, that can quickly change if the camper becomes lost or stranded. Individuals who are able to think clearly and objectively in such situations are much more likely to survive than those who panic and are unable to utilize the resources at hand. It is crucial that a camper be familiar with basic survival techniques, defined here as the ability to make efficient use of any available resource for sustenance and health.
Preparing For A Trip
Before leaving on a trip, campers should leave a travel itinerary with someone so that a search effort can be organized if they do not return. The itinerary should include all destinations and corresponding dates. Campers should monitor weather forecasts for their destination so they can pack the right type of clothing and gear. Finally, make certain that all the important survival gear is packed, that it is in top condition, and that you know how to use it in a survival situation.
The Basic Survival Kit
The following items are recommended for campers, though they are suitable for all outdoor survival-related situations. These items are only a foundation upon which the camper should build, as the activity and the environment may necessitate additional components. Suggested survival kit items include:
Heavy-duty aluminum foil (cooking, signaling)
Sealable plastic bags (water and food storage)
Clear plastic sheet (shelter, water collection)
Small mirror (signaling in daylight)
Flares or emergency strobe (signaling devices for the dark)
Whistle (sound signaling)
Map of the area and compass
Fire starter and tinder.
Bullion cubes or instant soup
Small multi-function knife
Water purification kit
Metal cup (boiling, collecting water)
Plastic water bottle
Light hatchet or wire saw (shelter building, tinder making)
Flashlight with spare batteries (Be sure not to buy a flashlight with a switch that can be turned on and off easily, which could accidentally wear down the batteries.)
Small first-aid kit, including personal medications and pain relievers
Fifty feet of nylon cord or strong fishing line and fish hooks (making shelters, animal snares, fishing)
While the list may seem lengthy, most of the items are small and light, and some are tools that are practical for everyday use.
The Brain—The Camper’s Greatest Survival Tool
When an accident occurs or when an individual becomes aware they are lost, panic is typically the first reaction. However, panic is never helpful. Remember the acronym STOP: Stay, Think, Observe and Plan. Experts say that for anyone lost, the best thing to do is sit down and gather their thoughts, focusing on what supplies and resources are available and what actions must be taken to insure survival.
A very high percentage of all outdoorsmen who become lost are rescued within three days. Survival experts recommend that once an individual realizes they are lost, they should start making plans and gathering resources that will enable them to survive for three days.
While panic is not helpful, some degree of fear is normal. It can actually benefit an individual’s resourcefulness, forcing the camper to remain calm and think rationally about the situation, its dangers and what must be done to survive.
The Basic Needs
In a survival situation, there are five basic needs: sustenance, medical, fire (warmth), shelter and rescue.
Sustenance—Humans will die after three days without water and food. Of the two, water is more important, since people can live without food for three weeks or more; however, lack of food can cause fatigue and impair mental faculties, which can cause a person to make mistakes or miss opportunities for rescue. Food is especially important in cold weather when the body is burning food more quickly in order to keep the body warm. Pack plenty of extra food for cold weather camping, in case an emergency arises. The food should be loaded with proteins, fats and complex carbohydrates. Foods high in sugars and starches provide a quick source of energy, but are not enough to sustain the body in very cold temperatures.
Having extra water is important in case an emergency arises. Water can be stored in a vehicle or on a boat, as well as carried when leaving camp. Having purification tablets or equipment for boiling water may also enhance the odds of survival, because most water in rivers, lakes, and streams, unless otherwise known as safe, carry microorganisms that can rapidly cause illness.
If a stream is nearby but you do not have any means of purification, dig a hole in a sandbar next to the stream. The hole will fill with water that has been filtered by the sand. The water may be cleaned further by filtering it through layers of fabric. This water may not be completely purified, but it should be safer to drink than water taken directly from the stream.
Water from springs or high in the mountains is usually safe to drink. Snow should be melted before it is drunk, so that it does not make you colder.
A plastic sheet or a space blanket can be used to catch rainwater. Simply line a hole with the sheet before a storm, then scoop out the water with a cup.
Water can be obtained from a number of plant sources, including vines and cactus. However, if the water obtained from a vine is milky, do not drink it.
In extreme situations, water may be collected by using a solar still. The first step in constructing a solar still is to dig a hole 2 feet deep by 3 feet across. Next, dig a smaller hole in the center of the first in which to place a can or other container; if necessary, fashion a container from aluminum foil. Place a plastic sheet over the hole, with rocks holding the sheet in place. Finally, place one small rock in the center of the sheet over the pan. Evaporating water will condense and roll down the sheet, where it will drip into the container. Optionally, a length of plastic tubing can be taped to the inside of the can and run underneath the tarp, so that water can be sucked out without disturbing the still. This technique will produce anywhere from a pint to a quart of purified water every 24 hours, depending on conditions like how dry the ground is. If conditions are very dry, vegetation placed into the hole will provide moisture for evaporation.
The collected water may attract small animals and insects, which will get trapped in the hole. These may be killed and eaten if no other food is available.
Medical—While good first aid kits are readily available, campers should also take into consideration the specific circumstances they will confront and plan accordingly. This requires taking along sufficient quantities of any prescribed medicines, extra contact lenses or prescription glasses and supplies such as insect repellant and antivenin. Depending on the time of year and prevailing weather conditions, sunscreen and sunglasses are additional items to consider.
Fire (Warmth)—Cold weather, wind and moisture are three impediments to a camper’s survival. In each instance, a good fire can be of great benefit. Fire is also useful in meeting other needs like purifying water, sterilizing bandages and signaling.
Good judgment should be exercised when selecting fire-making implements for a survival kit. Lighters produce a good flame but most work poorly in extreme cold, blow out in the wind and last only as long as the fuel source. Alternatively, commercial flint and steel fire starters work effectively in the wind or rain and have a long lifespan. However, adequate tinder must be available to catch the sparks and get a fire started. 0000 steel wool makes excellent tinder, as does charred cloth and dry grass.
If you become stranded without fire-making implements, a convex lens from a magnifying glass, camera, or binoculars can be used to focus sunlight on and ignite tinder. Several methods exist to rub wood together rapidly to start a fire, but these methods are difficult and require much experience.
Packing some easy-to-light, long-burning material will help with fire starting. A candle stub works very well, as do strips of rolled newspaper dipped in paraffin wax.
Fires can be constructed in a number of ways. One easy method is the lean-to. Start with a small log. This can be used as a windbreak, if necessary. Next, lean some dry sticks against the log. Underneath the sticks, light your tinder and loosely pile on some twigs. When the leaning sticks ignite, begin building the fire with ever-larger pieces of wood. Remember to continually add wood before the fire dies down, but don’t smother a fire with too much wood—always make sure there is plenty of space between logs through which air can pass.
Shelter—The need for shelter includes all aspects of protecting the body against the elements of nature, as well as insects and snakebites. The better-quality reflective-type blankets offer good protection, and resist tearing and damage. The camper should keep in mind, however, that these blankets are not self-regulating and can become exceptionally hot and wet inside when moisture is not allowed to escape.
Clothing is the most fundamental element of protection and one that is sometimes overlooked. People tend to dress for the conditions that exist at the moment they leave home. It is important to pack clothing that will keep you warm when it gets cold, and dry when it rains. Take into account possible extremes and worst-case scenarios, like getting separated from your campsite and tent.
If cold weather or rain makes shelter necessary, and the camper has become separated from the tent, natural shelter should be found and utilized. This could be a rock overhang, crevice, cave, hollow log, depression in the ground, or brush pile. In deep snow, the area around pine trees will often be free of snow and can serve as shelter. If no natural shelter can be found, the camper should fashion his or her own shelter. This can be done by digging a hole in deep snow, or tying a tarp between two trees. Alternately, a tent-shaped A-frame of branches can be tied together using nylon rope, and pine branches layered on top to keep out rain.
Rescue—A camper’s chances of returning home are dramatically improved if basic signaling skills are known and used. It is important to remember that bigger, louder and more is better. A widely recognized distress call is a series of three signals: three blasts of a whistle, three long honks of the car horn, three shots of a flare or firearm, or three campfires spaced at least 30 feet apart in a straight line or triangle. Modern technology offers the camper greatly improved communication devices such as wireless phones and global positioning systems (GPS). It is also recommended, before the trip, to let someone know where you’ll be and when you should be expected to return. This will greatly improve the chances of rescue.
Take It Easy
In survival situations, resting is important for many reasons. First, it conserves energy. You’ll need that energy to stay warm in cold weather and to think clearly about your situation. Second, it conserves water. In hot weather, try to limit work to the cool evenings so you sweat less. In cold weather, don’t work yourself into a sweat—sweat doesn’t easily evaporate through layers of clothing, and frozen sweat can prove deadly.
Finally, resting provides the opportunity to relax, think, observe, and plan the next move.